It's 2 a.m. You're stressed out about the history test that's in seven hours. You can't sleep. And a massive headache is making it all worse.
Doctors and specialists who practice alternative and complementary healing methods say you don't have to settle for the usual -- taking two aspirin for your head and nothing for your nerves.
Some strategic pricks from a needle, a carefully placed magnet, a little toe rubbing or vapors from herbs could take care of the headache and the anxiety.
Acupuncture, magnetic therapy, reflexology and aromatherapy are a few of the many healing options more people are seeking instead of traditional medicine. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that the number of Americans using alternative therapy increased from 33 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 1997.
"There's much more interest in complementary medicine now," said John S. Gordon, chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. "Three-fourths of medical schools now have elective courses in complementary medicine. Twenty years ago, when I was teaching that course, there were only two of us."
Some people have turned to alternative medicine because it's a part of their belief system. Others don't like chemicals -- even common ones from drugstore pain relievers -- in their bodies. And some just feel traditional medicine hasn't worked for them.
'Pharmaceuticals and surgery'
With a medical degree from Cornell University, Robert Atkins practiced traditional medicine about a third of his 40-year career. Then he gave it up.
"For the first 14 years I practiced mainstream medicine, I didn't know I was such a lousy doctor until I got better," Atkins said. "The mainstream medicine I learned was too simplistic -- just find a drug for this or find a drug for that. Ninety-nine percent of traditional medicine is pharmaceuticals and surgery."
The complementary medicine he practices combines traditional treatments and alternative methods. Alternative medicine uses therapies that are outside of the mainstream pill and surgery realm. Those therapies include vitamin and mineral supplementation, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, herbal remedies and homeopathy.
"For a lot of chronic illnesses, taking a pill is not the answer," said Gordon, who is the co-author of "Complementary Cancer Care: Integrating Alternative, Complementary and Conventional Therapies." "That will relieve the symptoms, but there are also some side effects."
One stop shot, quick relief?
Acne, asthma, diabetes, mononucleosis and allergies, common problems among teenagers, are all ailments that complementary medicine can remedy, said Patrick Fratellone, medical director at the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in New York.
At the Atkins clinic, doctors treat allergies with one shot. It's called neutralization, and a patient gets a one-time dose of what produces an allergic reaction.
Desensitization is the traditional approach. A doctor administers a gradually increased dose of what ails you until it doesn't bother you anymore. Sometimes it takes years.
Atkins said desensitization makes money for doctors and delays relief for the patient. But he adds that neutralization carries a greater risk of experiencing side effects than desensitization.
Diet vs. drugs
Acne and diabetes can be treated with diet, said Atkins, who has faced criticism for his low-carbohydrate diets. Some who practice traditional medicine say acne and diabetes treatments aren't as simple as controlling what you eat.
Diet won't effect the cause of acne, said Janet Hickman, a dermatologist in Virginia. Pimples result from pores getting clogged up with shedding skin and excess oil. And hormones control both of those conditions, she said.
As for diabetes, Atkins said he returned a teenager's blood sugar levels to normal and got him off insulin within five days. He gave the boy calcium injections and treated him with vitamins and nutrients.
Jay Cohen, a fellow of the American College of Endocrinology who practices in Memphis, Tennessee, said aggressive exercise programs and a strict diet regime can decrease the risk of developing diabetes.
But "most often, people with diabetes will require a combination of medicine with pills and insulin," said Cohen, who is also a member of the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists.
"There's no question that diet is important in chronic illness," Gordon said. "With cancer, 40 to 70 percent of it is related to diet." Diabetes is also affected by diet, he said, but many people might still need insulin.
No matter what the ailment, Gordon said, the issue with complementary medicine is "not just substituting one treatment for another. It's how can we help people help themselves."